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 What Is Naturalization?

Naturalization is the immigration process in which a person becomes a United States citizen. It is also the only way in which a person can become a citizen if they were not born a U.S. citizen, or if they did not acquire citizenship status immediately after they were born. In terms of who can apply for naturalization, only a person who has a permanent visa (known as a green card) may apply. Naturalization can frequently be a lengthy and complicated process, largely because the applicant is required to submit various forms and documents in order to prove their eligibility.

A person is considered to be a United States citizen by birth if they were born within the boundaries of the United States. This includes U.S. territories, namely:

  • Guam;
  • Puerto Rico; and
  • The Virgin Islands.

Additionally, those who are born abroad may be United States citizens at birth if both of their parents were United States citizens at the time of their birth, or if at least one of their parents lived in the U.S. at some point during their lifetime. Additionally, a person may be a U.S. citizen at birth if one of their parents is a U.S. citizen, although this is subject to additional requirements.

There are several requirements that must be met in order to become a naturalized citizen of the United States. The requirements for naturalization include, but may not be limited to:

  • The ability to read, write, and speak English;
  • A knowledge and understanding of United States history and government;
  • Good moral character;
  • An attachment to the ideals of the United States Constitution;
  • A favorable disposition towards the United States; and
  • A continued physical presence or residence in the United States for a specified period, generally five years.

An applicant may submit their completed Application for Naturalization, or Form N-400, to the appropriate United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) center. They should also submit any documents and any other additional information which has been requested. Additionally, they should make copies of their application and all documents that were submitted for their own records. It is important to note that applicants should not send their original documents with their application, unless an original signature is required.

Who Is Considered To Be An Immigrant?

The term “immigrant” refers to an individual who was born in a foreign country, but now resides in the United States. Some immigrants are citizens, as they have obtained citizenship by being naturalized. To reiterate, this is done by passing a citizenship test and meeting other legal requirements.

Generally speaking, immigrants in the United States who are not citizens are referred to as aliens. Aliens who are permanent U.S. residents are referred to as resident aliens, or as lawful permanent residents. Alternatively, aliens who are temporarily in the United States for a specific lawful purpose are referred to as temporary resident aliens.

What Is An Immigrant Visa?

According to the immigration laws of the United States, non-citizens who live here are required to apply for and receive a visa. A visa is an immigration document which allows a person to lawfully reside in the United States. In order to do so, a non-citizen needs either an immigrant visa, or a non-immigrant visa.

An immigrant visa is issued to a person who intends to live and work permanently in the United States. In order to apply for an immigrant visa, the foreign national must generally be “sponsored.” What this means is that someone, generally a relative or employer, sponsors the individual by filing an application with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

There are specific applicants for an immigrant visa who may be “self-sponsored.” What this means is that they may file the immigrant visa application on their own behalf. Among others, examples of such applicants include workers with extraordinary ability and investors.

Once a sponsor or self-sponsor files the visa application, the application is processed and an immigrant visa is issued. Once the immigrant visa and supporting paperwork have been reviewed and endorsed by an officer of the U.S Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”), the immigrant becomes a lawful permanent resident.

Lawful permanent residents (“LPRs”) are also known as “green card” holders. Green card holders may:

  • Accept an offer of employment without special restrictions;
  • Own property;
  • Receive financial assistance at public colleges and universities; and
  • Join the Armed Forces if they choose to do so.

Additionally, lawful permanent residents may also apply to become U.S. citizens if they meet certain eligibility requirements.

What Is A Non-Immigrant Visa?

According to United States immigration laws, nonimmigrant visas are issued to those seeking to enter the United States on a temporary basis. People may seek to temporarily enter the United States for:

  • Specific kinds of work;
  • Tourism;
  • Business; and/or
  • Medical treatment.

The specific type of nonimmigrant visa that a person must apply for is defined by United States immigration laws. An example of this would be how a person may apply for a business nonimmigrant (B1) or tourist (B2) visa.

People who wish to enter the United States in order to study or work may be required to meet certain authorization or provide additional documentation before they can apply for a nonimmigrant visa. Once the visa has been issued, a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer will conduct an inspection in order to determine whether they may be admitted under U.S. immigration laws. Those who “pass” the inspection may then reside in the United States for their approved temporary purpose.

What Is Required For An Immigrant To Become A United States Citizen?

As previously discussed, an immigrant becomes a citizen through the naturalization process. In order to be eligible for naturalization, an individual must:

  • Be at least 18 years old;
  • Obtain a green card in order to then obtain permanent resident status;
  • Possess their green card for at least five years, except under specific circumstances;
  • Have lived in the United States continuously for five years prior to filing an application for naturalization, except under specific circumstances;
  • Have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the 5 years before filing the application for naturalization;
  • Have lived within the state of residence for at least three months prior to the date of filing their application naturalization;
  • File the application for naturalization;
  • Pass the citizenship interview; and
  • Take the Oath of Allegiance at a citizenship ceremony, which is also called a naturalization ceremony.

The citizenship interview consists of review of the application, as well as a naturalization test. This test is commonly referred to as the “citizenship test” and tests an applicant’s knowledge of language (reading, writing, and speaking English) and civics (U.S. history, government, and culture).

Do I Need An Immigration And Naturalization Attorney?

If you wish to immigrate to the United States, or would like to pursue naturalization, working with an experienced and local immigration attorney can better your chances of doing so successfully.

An immigration attorney can help you determine which visa to apply for, and how to meet all eligibility requirements as well as file necessary paperwork on time. Additionally, an immigration lawyer will also be able to represent you in court, should any legal issues arise.

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